Released in The Interline’s first Sustainability Report, this executive interview is one of a ten-part series that sees The Interline quiz executives from major companies on what the term ‘sustainability’ really means, as well as the integral role they play in supporting brands and retailers in their sustainability strategies.

For more on sustainability in fashion, download the full Sustainability Report 2023 completely free of charge and ungated.

Key Takeaways:

  • In fashion, the term “sustainability” needs to be more precise and nuanced in order to effectively address specific topics such as traceability, environmental footprint, and social due diligence. By delving deeper into these specific areas, the industry can better understand and tackle the challenges associated with sustainability.
  • Sustainability concerns both people and the planet. But brands and retailers differ in their focuses and strategies around the broader scope of sustainability when it comes to addressing environmental and social issues within their businesses.
  • Transparent reporting and disclosure are crucial for accountability and driving positive change. This is particularly relevant with the introduction of Digital Product Passports and upcoming regulations, which will further necessitate comprehensive reporting and disclosure practices.
  • RFID technology has emerged as a pivotal tool in providing visibility, traceability, and accurate data. By utilising RFID technology, brands can support circularity, reduce waste, and optimise manufacturing processes. Tracking and monitoring products throughout their lifecycle, facilitates more sustainable practices and informed decision-making.

Do you believe “sustainability” is still a useful term for defining the complex road that fashion needs to travel?   

CAMILLA: The word “sustainability” as a generic term has indeed passed its due date. Now, we need to be more precise in our communication. In the past conferences I have attended, it was interesting to notice a distinction between multiple topics within “sustainability”. Terms and topics such as Traceability, Product Environmental Footprint, Social Due Diligence,  Greenhouse Gas Emissions, or Circularity – get muddled up if we use the simplistic, generic term “sustainability”. I think it is great to see that we are starting to look closer at the problem by naming the pain points concerning sustainability. 

What does that word mean to you, and how does your definition manifest itself in your company’s approach to designing solutions for fashion’s most urgent challenge? 

CAMILLA: To me, sustainability is just that – a generic collective term for all aspects concerning people and the planet. Our proprietary ProductDNA® solution is based on 4 different modules to cater to this multitude of topics under the different extents of sustainability. In this way, we aim to support and highlight the fact that brands start or are at different stages in their journey; they tackle different areas, and each might have a different focus within the large scope of sustainability. We cater to those who wish to focus on the human rights aspect or those who wish to be UFLPA-compliant. Some start on basic traceability for social compliance, and others need to get the carbon emissions collection going because this is what their sustainability goals need at that point. Many brands simply wish to avoid Greenwashing or want to jump on the Digital Product Passport train now, instead of waiting for a deadline that is rapidly approaching. ProductDNA® is a flexible platform that lets brands start with the topic at the top of their priority list, and continue from there. 

The most pressing manifestation of sustainability, from the brand and retail perspective, is the need for reporting and disclosure – not just at the whole-business level, in impact statements, but for each individual product. Communicating transparency at the style level is something we now have a semi-official name for (Digital Product Passports) and this is also an area where concrete regulation is either already in force, or is set to be introduced soon. How ready do you believe the fashion industry is to introduce these passports, and to comply with both current and coming regulations? 

CAMILLA: Well, we cannot generalize for the whole industry, I think. Some brands are further ahead than others. I see outdoor, baby, and yoga brands that are further ahead than more traditional retailers. Brands that target the millennial generation are far ahead of other segments. I find the willingness to comply and wish to support the green shift is truly there among all people working in the textile industry. Nonetheless, the corporations are still valued under a linear KPI model. So budgets are given to business projects that generate quick wins, instead of Digital Product Passport projects, for example, that support circularity, which will not show linear financial return for some time. The industry needs new KPIs that support the green shift for it to get ready.  

When we talk about both short-term compliance and longer-term sustainability strategies, a huge part of the conversation hinges on visibility and traceability down to a very granular level. This is a fascinating area because it brings together a lot of novel use cases and some very well-established technology foundations, like radio-frequency identification (RFID). What role do you see RFID playing in delivering the sort of discrete visibility fashion needs right now, and in unlocking future use cases in sustainability and transparency? 

DENNIS: As the fashion and textile industry is constantly in motion, the brands require an accurate data foundation to navigate the constant changes in demand patterns with canceled orders and poor demand predictions. Data gained from implementing RFID is even more valuable as it can also be used in monitoring and transparency reporting on sustainability measuring points. As a partner for hundreds of brands worldwide, at Trimco Group, we could easily see the importance of marrying technology and fashion, years ago. RFID’s role is horribly underestimated. A circular economy within the fashion industry, recycling and adding second life to used items, as well as reserve logistics projects, are becoming increasingly relevant factors. With up to 99% stock accuracy, the RFID technology supports the brands’ sustainability strategy by reducing overstocking and over-purchasing. This means less textile waste, better manufacturing processes, increased circularity options, and access to invaluable data that can help optimize even more these processes, helping brands to take action before it becomes an issue. 

The other big part to the traceability and transparency picture – beyond the hardware and the standards that power item-level visibility – are the platforms that build on top of that visibility to provide a comprehensive picture of the supply chain. How did Trimco Group arrive at the decision to create a platform for full supply chain traceability? And what makes your platform, ProductDNA®, different? 

CAMILLA: In 2020, we found ourselves in the same situation as every fashion and footwear brand. New traceability laws applied to Trimco Group the same way as they applied to our partnering brands. We needed to be on top of our own traceability: who is who in our supply chain – we had to be able to provide our customers the chemical, environmental, and social due diligence documentation for all our facilities and products at the click of a button. And that action required repetition for each brand in part. We experienced “platform fatigue”. We had documents in so many platforms and areas that we could not get one clear picture of our whole supply chain. It wasn’t easy for us and neither for the brands that we were working with. So, ProductDNA® was created to solve this – the first benefit of ProductDNA® was the ability to collect and display all chemical, environmental, and social standards in one unified overview. ProductDNA® does not favor Textile Exchange or GOTS, we do not question using Amfori or HIGG FSLM. We support a brand’s decision to use a multitude of third-party approved certifications, and we ensure all is gathered in one place.  

What makes us different is that all ProductDNA® functionalities are developed for and by us in the daily textile global supply chain. Our mantra has always been to design and create solutions that are meaningful to how the global textile & footwear supply chain works. Onboarding a traceability solution is one of the biggest challenges for many brands, and the workload is extremely high. But at Trimco Group, we already have a reach of +8000 garment factories onboard in our label ordering system. We often have the brand’s full style, SKU, color, fiber content, and coo in place. So, ProductDNA®’s plug-and-play modules make it fast to act and implement a new monitoring and traceability initiative for a brand’s supply chain. The holy grail may be the Digital Product Passport-ready QR code label. To support this, at Trimco Group, we can help brands and make sure that all data collected in ProductDNA® can be turned into a QR code, then woven or printed directly on the label, ready to be sewn in, and offer consumers the information about the specific item.  

A significant contributor to fashion’s environmental footprint is textile waste, which originates from both the creation of new products – where excess material is ordered, or where material yields aren’t optimised in cutting – and the short lifespan of those products post-consumer. There’s a big target here for item-level visibility, enabled via RFID, to help mitigate that environmental impact by providing a similar level of visibility into the extended lifecycle of products, and into circular channels. How do you see that use case developing?  

DENNIS: RFID untangles the challenges every brand experiences in today’s market. Even if it doesn’t have the power to solve everything, it has the unique ability to optimize the business’ operational side. If you can count on having the right amount of products at the right time in the right place, you can reduce the waste of natural resources and minimize the environmental impact of your business. 

Inventory and On-Floor availability increase process optimization to support lifting the brands’ supply chain. The wins are backed by data, because the beauty of RFID, for anyone who loves numbers and bottom-line results, is the access to hard data. Studies clearly display business gains of inventory accuracy improvements from below 75% accuracy to +95%, reducing stock deviations and shrinkage or misplacement significantly. Utilizing inventory accuracy removes the unsustainable Overproducing and Overstocking, compensating for expected low inventory stock accuracy. 

And why is it so important that RFID is embedded or sewn into the products themselves, rather than being part of a detachable label or hangtag? 

DENNIS: Embedding technology into garments provides the required unique digital identifier of the product, giving the product a digital life. Using QR codes, NFC or RFID technology, garments can easily and securely be identified throughout digital reading points in numerous environments based on the original digital identifier. With a circular fashion industry in mind, in-garment tagging solutions for returns tracking, rental or repair services, POS, and in-store security, the possibilities that RFID brings are too valuable to be ignored. 

For a lot of fashion businesses, compliance with regional regulations is the priority target, but long-term sustainability is about individual and collective action to rapidly improve fashion’s environmental and ethical credentials. What do you think the future looks like at that whole-industry level? And what does that mean for your roadmap and your customers? 

DENNIS: The future of fashion is, without a doubt, digital. Sustainability strategies are waiting in line to be implemented, with the pioneer being the much-discussed Digital Product Passport (DPP). RFID can be one of the technologies to support the requirements as a digital identifier. In many ways, RFID is already a passport for your garments or shoes. Connecting that data with different algorithms has the ability to support different KPIs or to serve different goals, such as sustainability goals or transparency across the supply chain. 

Consumer engagement, telling the story of the garment from design to material choices to production and logistic streams, is high on the brand’s roadmap. Connecting with the consumers requires a solid and scalable digital strategy, and at Trimco Group, we want to support brands with different options in this matter.  

CAMILLA: Yes, the “sustainable” future of fashion is digital. “Sustainability “ is something as basic as accuracy in planning. RFID is a key tool to avoid overproduction and full warehouses of unsold goods.  Digital is also the key to unlocking the business opportunities of re-commerce. People wish to support all aspects of sustainability, but corporations are run by shareholder value. RFID, digital solutions, and re-commerce are all initiatives that speak “Green” in both environmental, as well as Dollar value if you wish.